Shahbaz Taseer, the son of slain Pakistani governor Salman Taseer, has described how he was flogged, tortured and shot during almost five years in captivity.
Talking to BBC and CNN, Taseer recalled how he was flogged with 500 lashes in three to four days, had his back cut open with blades and was shot in the leg after he was kidnapped from Lahore in 2011 and taken to Pakistan’s tribal areas and then to Afghanistan.
“They pulled out the nails of my hands and feet. They even buried me in the ground for several days on at least three occasions,” he said.
But analysts in Pakistan questioned his claims while others expressed wonder at why he spoke only to the foreign media.
Setting aside the government‘s claims that a military operation led to his recovery, Taseer said he had been held at a Taliban-run jail after being sentenced by a Taliban court in Afghanistan. “It was from there I secured my release with the help of a person who recognised who I was,” he said.
He said he walked for more than a week to travel from Afghanistan to the outskirts of Quetta city, from where he called his mother and informed her of his location.
Taseer, who is in his early 30s, described his survival as a “personal victory”. He said patience and the hope of eventual release sustained him. “People, friends and family say you are very brave, you came back, it was very heroic. But these are not things I can say about myself. What I can say about myself is that I learnt to be very patient.”
He was abducted in August 2011, when his car was intercepted by men in a black SUV and a motorcycle around 600 yards from his office. Three men dragged him out of his car and took him away.
Taseer said his kidnapping was orchestrated by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group associated with Al-Qaeda that is blamed for terror attacks in Pakistan. “I was tortured for about a year in these extravagant Hollywood-style movies they would make for my family to put pressure on them, pressure on the government,” he said.
In his interview with BBC Urdu, Taseer said he was subjected to severe torture and mental torment but God wanted him alive. “They also kept me without food and sewed my mouth and once did not provide me food for at least seven to 10 days. I was also shot in the foot but it fortunately did not hurt me seriously,” he added.
“They would carve my back open with blades, and then throw salt into it,” he told CNN.
He said the abductors also placed bees on his face so that it would be unrecognisable for his family. On another occasion, he was tortured when he couldn’t provide details of his bank account. “My wounds,” he said, “wouldn’t heal and I kept bleeding for a week for being unable to provide them the bank details, the abductors had no mercy and no remorse on their wrongdoing.”
He added, “The torture made me strong and I refused their demands. Finally, my God ended my misery...I used to pray all night and until the dawn of a new day.”
Taseer denied any ransom was paid for his release. “I did not pay any money. Rather I took their Rs10,000 while fleeing...I managed to flee the prison with a help of a man and reach Kuchlak, Balochistan. Later, I was sent to Lahore by the troops of the Pakistan Army.”
Asked about his abductors, Taseer said he was only held by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan until the militant groups fought with each other.
“They kidnapped me from Lahore and took me to Mir Ali area of Waziristan and they used to move me every month from the original place,” he said.
“I was in Mir Ali when the Uzbeks attacked Karachi airport, but realising how Pakistan’s government and army will respond, they shifted me to Datta Khel. I was there till February 2015,” he revealed.
Recalling telephone conversations with his family, Taseer said, “When the kidnappers would call my mother, it was not me speaking to her; it was them. I was just their vehicle. I knew she couldn’t speak freely either. But I learned to focus on her voice. I loved hearing her voice.”
Taseer said he was later captured by the Afghan Taliban, which doesn’t believe in ransom and kidnapping. Circumstances changed for him when he was freed by a member of the Taliban, according to CNN.
“It’s insane you can find humanity where there is none,” he said.
Taseer’s account, however, has been greeted with scepticism by several analysts. Journalist Mujib-ur Rehman Shami said the accounts of torture “may have been exaggerated”. Shami said Taseer may have been asked by the Pakistani military to paint the Taliban as barbarians.
Political commentator Moeed Pirzada questioned the claim that Taseer escaped on his own. “He walked for several hundred miles, which I find unbelievable given his physical condition at the time,” said Pirzada “I believe the family has been actively trying to play down the belief that they paid millions in ransom.”